Ayurveda Tips - Forget the Heat

As longer and warmer days beckon, it's tempting to plunge into full-on sun worship. But instead of engaging in the intensity of the season, Ayurvedic wisdom suggests easing yourself into the sweltering days ahead. As summer transforms your world, your body's adjusting, too.

Cool water - When you're flushed and sweaty from an intense yoga class or just a walk around the block on a particularly humid day, you're ready for a rejuvenating and cleansing shower. However, before you jump into your usual hot and steamy shower, adjust the temperature dial. Excess heat and steam can irritate or inflame naturally glowing skin. According to Ayurveda, the pitta dosha gives skin its glow, but too much pitta can turn that glow to a puffy red. Since summer delivers plenty of pitta already, you're better off stepping under a cool shower to restore balance and revitalize your inner chill.

Cool foods - The beginning of summer is the perfect time to shift from a steady diet of mostly cooked foods to one that includes more salads and raw fruits. As summer's fiery pitta dosha starts to dominate, you might notice your digestive fire overheating, sparking symptoms like acid indigestion. To maintain a serene stomach, cut back on spicy, sour, and salty foods—nix the nachos, pickles, and chips. Nourish yourself with fresh, pitta-calming astringent foods (apples, buckwheat, and quinoa) and bitters (like artichokes, cucumbers, and dandelion greens). In recipes and drinks, replace (sour) lemon juice with (bitter) lime to quell excess heat in your system.

Cool brew - When was the last time you got through summer without drinking at least one glass of iced tea? The season doesn't feel the same without it. With pitta-harmonizing herbs, you can make your tea tastier and healthier. Try a mix of dried, organic peppermint, fennel, and gotu kola. Strain the mixture, then stir in some stevia powder (a natural sweetener) or raw sugar—not honey, which can heat you up—and serve lightly chilled. With a little care and attention, your transition from the exuberance of spring into the ease of summer will be smooth and balanced.

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Mantras In Brief

Ever wonder what you're chanting during a yoga class? Nervous about chanting the wrong thing? This article provides translations and historical information for common chants.

1. Aum - The Primal Shabda

Om, actually pronounced "Aum," is an affirmation of the Divine Presence that is the universe and is similar to the Hebrew "Amen." There are many ways of chanting Aum, but this is an approach that will initiate you as a Shabda Yogi, one who pursues the path of sound toward wholeness and higher states of consciousness.

2. Lokah Samastha - A Chant for Wholeness

Lokah samastha sukhino bhavanthu.

May this world be established with a sense of well-being and happiness.

3. Gayatri - Being Illuminated by Sacred Sound

Om bhur bhuvas svaha
Thath savithur varaynyam
Bhargo dheyvasya dhimahih
Dhyoyonah pratchodhay-yath

We worship the word (shabda) that is present in the earth, the heavens, and that which is beyond. By meditating on this glorious power that gives us life, we ask that our minds and hearts be illuminated.

4. Om Namah Shivaaya

Om Namah Shivaaya, Namah Shivaaya, Nama Shiva

I bow to Lord Shiva, the peaceful one who is the embodiment of all that is cause by the universe.

5. Bija Mantras - Seed Mantras

In the “seed” (bija) mantras each seed is conceived of as the sound-form of a particular Hindu deity, and each deity is in turn a particular aspect of the Absolute (Brahman). It’s said that just as a great tree resides in within the seed, so does a god or goddess reside in each bija. When we chant the bijas, we identify each syllable with the divine energy they represent.

Lam - Curve the tip of your tongue up and back, and place it on the rear section of the upper palate to pronounce a sound like the word alum without the initial a. (Base of the spine)

Vam - Place the upper set of teeth on the inner section of your lower lip and begin with a breathy consonant to imitate the sound of a fast car. Pronounce the mantra like "fvam." (Genitals)

Ram - Place the tip of your tongue on the roof of the front section of the upper palate, roll the r as in Spanish, and pronounce the mantra like the first part of the word rumble. (Abdomen)

Yam - Inhale audibly through your mouth, and pronounce the word hum (as in humming); allow the breath to extend beyond the resolution of the consonant. (Solar Plexus and Heart Area)

Ham - Inhale noiselessly through your mouth, and pronounce the sound like the word yum (as in yummy); allow the sound along with your breath to fill your mouth and throat cavity. (Throat)

Om - Inhale audibly through your nostrils, and direct the stream of air to the point between your eyebrows. Pronounce the sound along with your exhalation as a subtly audible whisper, allowing the sound and breath to resonate in the cranial area. (Point between the eyebrows)

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Organig Clothes

The next time you throw on your favorite T-shirt, consider this: Approximately one-third of a pound, or 17 teaspoons, of chemicals—many of them known carcinogens—were used to grow the cotton to produce it. Fortunately, designers are now making clothes from eco-friendly materials like organic cotton, hemp, and soy, so you can wear your environmental beliefs on your sleeve.

What's more, you don't have to don frumpy floor-length tunics or oversize tie-dyes to be eco-conscious. Designers like Stewart&Brown, an organic-apparel company based in California, have created clothes so stylish that celebs like Cameron Diaz and Liv Tyler have been spotted wearing them. "Our goal was to prove that it is possible for organic clothing to be fashionable and sophisticated," says Howard Brown, the company's cofounder.

One of the latest additions is clothing made from soy. Of the Earth, a clothing designer and manufacturer in Bend, Oregon, started making soy-based clothes three years ago with names like Tofu T, Miso Cute Top, and Edamame Wrap. The advantage of soy fiber is that it's soft and durable like cotton, but wicks away moisture like polyester does, so it's ideal for yoga or active lifestyle gear. It's also from non-genetically modified crops, though they're not yet certified organic.

Forward-thinking designers have helped organic clothing gain popularity. According to the Organic Trade Association, the demand for organic fibers grew more than 20 percent from 2002 to 2003, and retailers like Patagonia and Nike have begun incorporating organic cotton into their clothing lines. "There's no doubt that sustainable fashions are making headlines," Brown says. "The clothes are better for us and better for the environment, and those are benefits that cannot be ignored."

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Relieving Cold & Flu

As hard as you try, you can't always keep the colds and flus of winter from stuffing up your head and slowing down your body. Before you know it, you're wondering if you should attempt your regular yoga practice or give up and go to bed. Here's what I suggest.

LISTEN CLOSE - Check in with your body before practice. If you're wiped out, you could make things worse by pushing through your normal routine, so try a gentle or restorative practice instead and skip strong breathing techniques. Once your energy improves, you can gradually return to a more vigorous practice even if you still have a cough or your nose is stuffy. If you feel worse after practicing, it's a sign that you've probably done too much.

TREAT YOURSELF - If you feel you need to take something for your symptoms, avoid antibiotics; they are worthless for colds, and even over-the-counter cold remedies aren't very practical, since many contain five drugs when all you need is one or two. It makes more sense to take individual remedies, like slippery elm lozenges for a sore throat or acetaminophen for pain. For nasal congestion, add a few drops of eucalyptus oil to boiling water and inhale the vapors. Although it's still not clear how effective echinacea, zinc lozenges, vitamin C, and homeopathic preparations can be, you can still try them, since they are all generally very safe.

CLEAR YOUR HEAD - A stuffy nose, while not serious, can really put a crimp in your practice, especially if you do a lot of Ujjayi Pranayama (Victorious Breath). To unstuff yourself, use jala neti, a yogic nasal cleansing technique: Put a quarter teaspoon of noniodized salt and eight ounces of warm water in a neti pot. Standing over a sink, tip your head to one side and insert the spout into the upper nostril, allowing the water to flow into your nose and drain from the other nostril. Repeat on the other side. You can try this several times a day if you've got a cold. Jala neti can be helpful right before pranayama or meditation practice, or even asana.

SOUND OUT YOUR SINUSES - Vibrations from humming have been shown to open the sinuses and let phlegm drain, which can relieve pressure and may even help stave off a bacterial infection of the sinuses. Try chanting Om, or, for nasal congestion, experiment with the pranayama practice of Bhramari: Press your lips together and make the sound of a buzzing bee.

STAY UPRIGHT - If your head is stuffed up or you're feeling tired, modify or skip inversions like Headstand and Handstand. Even Shoulderstand can worsen nasal congestion and head pressure.

SUPPORT YOURSELF - Even restful poses like Savasana (Corpse Pose) aren't easy when you're congested, so instead of lying flat, support your back on a bolster running lengthwise from your lower spine to your head, with a folded blanket under the head and neck if needed. This makes breathing easier, and it's more energizing. Supta Baddha Konasana (Bound Angle Pose) can also be done with back support.

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Ayurveda & Energy Boost

Unusual mental or physical exertion, stress, and lack of sleep can make people tired. Prevention in these cases simply requires self-observation. Sometimes it means not pushing the body and mind beyond its limits. Other times it means walking or doing some physical work to help increase the body's energy level.

Other major causes of fatigue include anemia, low gastric fire, and weakness of the liver. If the fatigue is due to anemia, eating iron-rich foods and blood builders such as pomegranate juice, grapes or grape juice, and beets or beet/carrot juice, can help. Right nostril breathing (Surya Pranayama) is also helpful, as it stimulates the liver, which plays an important role in building the blood. For fatigue caused by physical exertion, drinking fresh orange juice with a pinch of rock salt gives a quick boost. Add 10 drops of lime juice to help the body cool down. When agni (the digestive fire) is low, digestion will be sluggish, bringing the energy level down. One way to raise agni is to chop or grate a little fresh ginger, add a few drops of lime juice and a pinch of salt, and chew it before meals. Also, it is best to avoid cold or iced drinks, as they counteract agni and impede effective digestion. Instead, take small sips of warm water while eating.

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Yoga Tips: Preventing CVS

You've been sitting in front of your computer for several hours trying to ignore your stinging, dry eyes and get through your work. You can't quit now....If only your eyes would stop burning!

Thus, your sentence is CVS, or computer vision syndrome.

Tired eyes and blurry vision are but two symptoms of what is now recognized as a broader problem called "computer vision syndrome." As computer use continues to rise, so do cases of CVS. A recent research showed that nearly 90% of employees who work with computers for more than three hours a day suffer from some form of eye trouble.

CVS has a host of causes, from improper lighting, screen glare, and an ill-adapted workspace, to poor posture and glasses or contact lenses with incorrect prescriptions, according to Kent M. Daum, O.D., Ph.D., of the School of Optometry of the University of Alabama, Birmingham. Infrequent blinking is another culprit. We blink to keep the eyes lubricated, explains Daum. When staring at a computer screen, we blink less, so the eyes become dry. And the more we concentrate, the less we blink, so casually surfing the Web may be easier on the eyes than focused work, he says. Also, deficiencies of vitamin A may cause severe eye dryness, so be sure to get enough.

While CVS has not yet been shown to damage vision, there is no need to put up with its uncomfortable symptoms. Proper workspace ergonomics, frequent breaks from the computer, and eye drops are easy solutions that work. (When choosing eye drops, stay away from those containing phenylephrine or other whitening agents that can worsen symptoms over time.)

Dimming the lights in the workspace can also reduce eye fatigue. "The eye adjusts to the relatively dim computer screen. If you have a brightly lit office, whenever you look away from the screen, your eyes have to adjust to that brighter light, which can lead to eye fatigue," Daum explains.

In addition, Judith Lasater, Ph.D., author of Relax and Renew: Restful Yoga for Stressful Times (Rodmell, 1995), recommends adjusting the computer so that the eyes rest at the level just below the tips of the ears; this will put the head in a more relaxed, comfortable position. She also says to pull your shoulder blades down, "like tucking in a shirt," for a long back and open chest.To release overall tension (which she feels contributes to eye distress), Lasater suggests a version of Savasana (Corpse Pose) tailored for the eyes. Lie down in Savasana with a stack of several books lying nearby on the floor by the top of your head. Place either a five-pound bag of rice or some sandbags halfway on the books and halfway on your forehead. Relax for 15 minutes. This will help the muscles in the head to loosen and relax.

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Why Do You Practice?

Most beginning students will tell you they got into yoga to alleviate back pain, relieve stress, or become more flexible—fairly simple responses. I started my own practice after reading that yoga asanas are the best form of exercise ever devised; that belief kept me going for several years.

But the reasons you practice might not be as straightforward as they seem. It's entirely possible that after closely examining your innermost motives, you'll find nothing more than a hankering for looser hamstrings—but don't bet on it. Yoga is full of surprising twists and turns.

It's no secret that we often do things for reasons we're totally unaware of; sometimes our unconscious motives become clear only after a good deal of self-reflection. So it's important to realize that questioning the intent of our practice inevitably leads us to inquire about the meaning of our life as well. We could just as pertinently ask: Why am I really alive?

At the outset, it's natural to assume that our practice and our life are totally separate, that we practice for an hour or so a day and then forget about it. But after a while, the two inevitably begin to merge. As Sri Aurobindo, the great 20th-century Indian sage and progenitor of Integral Yoga, reminds us, "All life is yoga."

We may have been gifted with the life-enhancing tool of yoga, but for what reason? The clue is in the Sanskrit word yoga itself, which as you no doubt have heard means "union." For our purposes, though, it might be better to define it as "wholeness," a word etymologically related to both healthy and holy. So why do we really practice yoga? Because life wants us to be whole in the widest and truest sense of the word...

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Kundalini Yoga In Brief

An uplifting blend of spiritual and physical practices, this yoga style incorporates movement, dynamic breathing techniques, meditation, and the chanting of mantras, such as Sat nam ("I am truth"). The goal is to build physical vitality and increase consciousness.

BASIC PRINCIPLES: Using sound, breath, and posture, Kundalini Yoga aims to develop spiritual awareness by freeing the serpent power (kundalini) that is coiled in the base of the spine and drawing it upward through the seven chakras.

WHO FOUNDED IT: Kundalini Yoga has its roots in the Tantric Yoga tradition, which dates back to the eighth century. In 1969, Sikh leader Yogi Bhajan (born in 1929) brought the practice to North America.

WHERE TO DO IT: Kundalini's spiritual center is the 3HO (Healthy, Happy, Holy) Foundation in Espanola, New Mexico; the foundation oversees 300 centers worldwide.

SIDE BUSINESS: The Yogi Tea Company (www.yogitea.com) sells a complete line of medicinal and healing teas.

TEACHERS TO KNOW: Gurmukh Kaur Khalsa, Shanti Kaur Khalsa, Shakta Kaur Khalsa.

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